My "Journo-less" Summer...So Far (Part 7 of 8)

Thursday, September 11, 2014
This is the seventh installment for my personal journalism-related observations of the current summer promised, the passing of a conservative publishing icon with whom I actually shared a core commonality.

7. The passing of Richard Mellon Scaife:

Richard Mellon Scaife holds up a copy of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's first Sunday edition in May 1974. (file photo courtesy of Trib Total Media

During this blog's run, I have done tribute pieces for two widely respected journalists (Andy Rooney and Helen Thomas) on the occasion of their passings. While Scaife was not a content producer, his activities within the overall periphery of journalism earned him at least a mention here. The 82-year old billionaire died on July 4th of an untreatable form of cancer that he announced through his own newspaper, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, on May 18th. Grand-nephew of Andrew W. Mellon--the renowned industrialist/philanthropist as well as a former US ambassador to the United Kingdom and US Treasury Secretary, he grew up in an affluent family and formally took control of the vast Mellon fortune when his mother died in 1972. A staunch supporter of conservative and libertarian causes, his personal views often crossed over into that newspaper and other journalistic ventures with which he associated himself--normally in a financial role.

While several bias "bleed-over" incidents in that local media market are noteworthy, it was Scaife's intense focus on President Bill Clinton and his administration that garnered him national attention in the 1990s. As the chief financier of the Arkansas Project, an "editorial improvement project" established by operatives of The American Spectator magazine to inflict damage on the Clinton presidency, we learned of unfounded conspiracies involving the CIA running drugs out of his home state and the claim that White House aide Vince Foster was supposedly murdered by Clinton operatives during cover-up activities related to the Whitewater real estate controversy (he committed suicide in July 1993 after several high-profile presidential appointment gaffes and the eruption of a new "scandal" involving the White House's travel office).

This unhinged media zeal towards uncovering any real or imagined transgressions by the sitting Democratic president did eventually lead to the discovery of his extramarital affair with intern Monica Lewinsky which led to his impeachment by the US House of Representatives and a subsequent trial in the US Senate. With the two-thirds majority threshold required for removal from office by that body an impossible goal, Clinton's political enemies knew that the only "scalp" they could secure via impeachment would be his legacy but that backfired on them with his party gaining seats in the 1998 mid-term Congressional elections and a 66 percent job approval rating when he left office in January 2001 (he's still at a 64 percent level in recent polling and the publisher actually befriended the former president after he left office and his paper endorsed Hillary's presidential candidacy in 2008).

In addition to the newspaper, Scaife also had part ownership in Newsmax Media, a conservative news media outlet that runs both a website and a monthly print magazine. In an odd twist of fate, one of his Arkansas Project "hitmen" (journalist David Brock) changed his own political views in the late 1990s and eventually founded Media Matters for America, a "progressive research and information center" that routinely monitors and reports on the type of biased reporting he used to do for the likes of his old boss and others in conservative media circles.

While Scaife and I have very little in common in terms of our ideology, I found out through reading his cancer announcement that we both shared a lifelong love for newspapers--a medium that must "remain the strong guardians of our lives, the crucial source of critical information, that they have always been – because the health, security, freedom and well-being of our communities, our nation, and all of us individually, depend on them". Such an altruistic desire can make me feel a small sense of loss for his passing in a St. Augustine "love the sinner but hate the sin" manner. It will be interesting to see what ideological direction that paper will tack now that its cœur et l'âme is no longer with us.


Here are the previous postings in this series:

1. The Al Jazeera Reporters
2. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
3. News Glance with Genevieve Vavance
4. CNN's The Sixties
5. "The Last Magazine"
6. Government crackdown on Myanmar journalists

Coming up of the best ever in his trade becomes the subject of an odd documentary film.

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